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Bruges vs Ghent

While I plan on visiting both cities, I'd like opinions on which one to stay in. I will be in Belgium for 8 nights in September before moving on to the Netherlands and was planning on splitting my nights as such:

3 nights Brussels (day trip to Ypres Salient)
2 nights Ghent (day trip to Bruges)
3 nights Antwerp

I prefer cities with some grit; for example, I much prefer Budapest to Vienna, Madrid to Barcelona, and was not a fan of Prague. I plan on seeing as much Old Flemish Masters art as possible and visiting as many breweries as I can. I feel like I'm making the right choice by not staying overnight in Bruges but I still have a nagging doubt.

Fire away.

Posted by
2075 posts

Bruges is a lovely town, but it's pretty much gritless. I think you will prefer Ghent.

Posted by
12040 posts

Gent hosts a large university, and has quite a bit more life too it. I wouldn't exactly call it "gritty", but definately more lived-in than Brugge. But if you really want lived-in and somewhat gritty, check out Antwerp.

Posted by
6045 posts

Based on the types of cities you prefer I think your itinerary is just right, you should like all three (Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp); Bruges will be like a trip to 'cute tourist town' and will be a good day trip. Many posters here love Bruges and stay there for days but I did it as a day trip from Brussels and it was enough for me. If you go as a day trip be sure you have enough time there to visit the two main museums, they are in my opinion not to be missed.

Posted by
13958 posts

Ghent is lovely after dark when the medieval buildings and bridges are floodlit. It's quieter than Bruges - fewer tourists, fewer tourist shops, no horse-drawn carriages. Also, hotels are definitely less expensive. It's not far from Brussels, so you may even want to take a night from Brussels and add it to Ghent. You could spend the day sightseeing in Brussels, then rest as you travel to Ghent and still have time for dinner. Or early dinner in Brussels, late train to Ghent, or even picnic dinner on the train.

Posted by
4687 posts

Note that it is exceptionally easy to daytrip between these cities, on last-minute train tickets. Personally I prefer Antwerp, but Brussels is also rich in museums. Alas, the fine KMSKA in Antwerp is still closed for renovation. Use the internet and the TI to check for small temporary shows of their collections. For example, they WERE showing their Rik Wouters in his hometown of Mechelen.

A full-day trip to Bruges will be entirely sufficient.

Do not overlook the small museums and churches, like van den Bergh in Antwerp. Alas, some church-mounted Reubens works have been replaced with replicas for obvious reasons. But in the Cathedrals, they're the originals.

The Gent altarpiece is a rare MONDAY opportunity, but some retail will also be closed there on Monday. And I think part of the altarpiece is out for conservation.

Posted by
565 posts

Thanks everybody! I've decided to do a little amending but I'm still only going to go to Bruges as a day trip. I'm adding a night in Ghent and subtracting one from Antwerp, but Antwerp will still get 2 full days in my itinerary. And I'm switching up the day trips-to Bruges from Brussels and Ypres from Ghent. I'm very excited and I really thank each and every one of you for your tips.

Emily

Posted by
4687 posts

Emily, whatever city you're in on Sunday morning MIGHT have a Sunday-only, paid, single tour of an otherwise security-closed Town Hall. They can be of great architectural and decorative interest. Ask at the TI about such tours at least the day before.

Posted by
1803 posts

Good plan. In terms of "grit", I'd say Bruges is the least gritty of all. If I had to choose a word to describe Bruges, I would actually choose "pristine" over "gritty". Ghent would be slightly above Bruges, then Brussels and finally Antwerp. I really liked Antwerp and definitely felt like it offered a really nice mix of art, architecture, beer, foodie and fashion scenes. I will say as a woman, there are a couple areas that I'd avoid walking solo through after dark in Antwerp (around the train station, through the Diamond district and over near the red light district). During the day - no problems. At night it's a different vibe.

Posted by
1 posts

We were in Belgium for our honeymoon from June 20th -July 2nd and Antwerp is the most gritty. Antwerp had the least tourists and was very laid back. We felt in Antwerp that every neighborhood we walked through we got a sense of the people. Maybe because It was a heat wave and everyone was outside enjoying the city. Bruges is very historic and not to be missed but it is not gritty at all. And Bruges had by far the most tourists of any place we went in Belgium. In Bruges, I found if you go several blocks east of the main square along Hoogstraat there are a lot less tourists and more locals. With only 8 nights your plan sounds good. All those cities have breweries and cafes overflowing with beer. And they all have good museums containing paintings by the Flemish Masters. Great thing about Belgium was we never had to wait in line for anything. Every museum we walked right in. Even the canal ride in Bruges, we did on the nicest day of the year, we walked right up and got a seat. We found Bruges and Antwerp easily walkable but Brussels seemed more spread out to us. So if you have a lot of spots in Brussels to hit you will need a good plan to get them all in.
Enjoy.

Posted by
11549 posts

We were in Belgium for our honeymoon from June 20th -July 2nd and Antwerp is the most gritty.

Interesting because we were in Belgium in May and thought Brussels was grittier than Antwerp, depending on area.